What is Femicide?

G. Wiesen

Femicide is, in a general sense, the killing of women specifically because they are women. This term can have a number of different applications, however, and a single meaning is not necessarily all-inclusive. It can describe a mass murder of women, similar to a genocide, only directed toward a gender rather than a similar cultural or ethnic background. Femicide can also refer to other forms of murder that are perpetrated specifically toward women, such as the killing of women by their partners or husbands and “honor killings” of female family members and wives.

Femicide can occur when spousal abuse escalates.
Femicide can occur when spousal abuse escalates.

In general, femicide is seen as a hate crime that specifically targets women due to misogyny or sexism felt by the perpetrator of the crime against the victim. The term was first coined in the early 19th Century and was initially used as a general term to refer to the murder of a female victim; it has since been refined to have more specific meanings. It is typically easiest to differentiate any murders with female victims from femicides by considering the gender of the victim and attitudes of the killer. If the victim was killed because she was a woman, then it typically qualifies as femicide.

Femicide is the targeted murder of a woman.
Femicide is the targeted murder of a woman.

The term “femicide” generally has two major applications: one is on a large scale, and the other is narrower in focus. As a large-scale term, it is typically used in a way similar to “genocide,” in reference to mass murders of women or females simply because they are female. This can be used in a situation such as the targeted murders of women in some countries, especially lesbians or poor women. It can also refer to practices in countries in which male babies are more highly regarded than female babies, and females may be left to starve or otherwise die. A passive femicide of this sort is just as destructive as more active crimes and still qualifies in the sense that it is conducted specifically against women.

Femicide can also refer to individual crimes that make up a larger pattern and are directed toward women. This can include situations of spousal abuse, targeting a woman in a relationship, which ultimately escalates until the woman is murdered. There are also certain cultures or countries in which “honor killings” may occur that target women. Such killings are usually done by a family member or husband of a woman who is seen to have acted in a way that “dishonored” her family, and the woman is killed to restore this lost honor. Femicide is used as a specific form of “gendercide,” which refers to any killing that targets a specific gender, and is in contrast to murders that target men or “viricide.”

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Discussion Comments


Is it also called femicide when parents murder baby girls because they want boys? Such a state of affairs was at least rumored to exist when China put a rule in place mandating that all families were limited to only one child. That might be called something else, but femicide at least seems to fit.

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